Two years ago, WSU announced a hotel for its Innovation Campus. Where is it?

More than two years ago, Wichita State University officials announced plans for a 123-room Element by Westin Hotel at the corner of 19th and Oliver. The project, which was supposed to break ground this spring, is not moving forward as initially planned. (July 10, 2018)
More than two years ago, Wichita State University officials announced plans for a 123-room Element by Westin Hotel at the corner of 19th and Oliver. The project, which was supposed to break ground this spring, is not moving forward as initially planned. (July 10, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

A hotel at Wichita State University's Innovation Campus — the signature project of a mixed-use area called Braeburn Square — is not moving forward as initially planned.

University officials said an Element by Westin Hotel planned for the corner of 19th and Oliver previously was scaled back and now is uncertain as developers negotiate with other hotel companies.

"As far as I know, there is no contract" for a hotel on Innovation Campus, said Lou Heldman, WSU's vice president for strategic communications.

"Discussions are still actively in progress, but ... we've had various waves of them being actively in progress," he said. "We absolutely think there's going to be a hotel there, but what and when? I'd wait until at least there's earth moving or steel going up."

More than two years ago, university officials announced plans for a 123-room Element by Westin Hotel. It was the first official deal for Braeburn Square, a restaurant and retail development named after the former Braeburn Golf Course, which the school closed to make room for the 120-acre Innovation Campus.

Law Kingdon Architecture developed design plans and released sketches of the proposed hotel, which was supposed to have an indoor saline pool, complimentary bicycles and green features, such as carpet made from recycled tires.

"Wichita State President John Bardo said, 'Meet you for dinner at Braeburn Square' or 'I'm staying at the Element' will become commonly used phrases as the mixed-use sector is developed," according to a 2016 news release announcing the hotel.

At the time, developers said they planned to break ground in spring 2017. In February 2018, university officials said the Element by Westin was still in the works, with a groundbreaking planned for spring.

It's unclear precisely what happened. Officials with the development firm MWCB, which was selected to finance and manage the hotel project, would not comment for this story. The firm is comprised of David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland Jr. and Steven Barrett.

John Nagle, principal with Dallas-based Imagine Resorts and Hotels, the initial builder on the WSU hotel project, said his company is no longer working with the university.

"I don't really know what happened," Nagle said. "I just know that we're no longer involved in it and have not been for some time."

Tracee Friess, director of communication for WSU's office of research and technology transfer, said "there isn't much to report at this time" on the project and that developers "are still in discussions" with Element and other hotel chains regarding a hotel at Wichita State.

"They're still hoping to confirm a design and break ground this year, but they're not going to compromise as far as getting the right hotel for WSU," Friess said.

"Obviously, this is something that's going to be on our campus for a while, so we want to make sure it's the right brand, it's the right design, it's the right number of rooms. So they're really not rushing anything at this point."

Heldman, the university vice president, said one complication could be that the proposed hotel would be the only one in the area.

"One of the things that banks and hotel companies look at is: What's the success of other hotels already in this geographic zone?" Heldman said. "And there was no information because, of course, this part of town doesn't attract any hotels."

The hotels closest to WSU's campus include the Wesley Inn at Central and Hillside, Aloft Wichita at K-96 and Oliver and the Hilton Garden Inn near 21st and Rock Road.

"There's basically no data," Heldman said. "In the meantime, I think people started saying, 'Well, is this hotel viable from that standpoint, since there's no data?' And I think that slowed it down."

Even before the Innovation Campus was announced in 2014, university officials touted the need for a first-class hotel in that area. Guests could include families of prospective students, visiting athletic teams and people doing business with the university, Heldman said.

But development and construction projects often hit snags. Not long after the initial announcement, plans were delayed by the sale of Westin's parent company to Marriott. As the hotel chain reconsidered its Element brand, plans for the WSU hotel were scaled back from 123 rooms to 83 rooms.

"What I've come to believe, following the progress of all of these buildings, is that nothing involving construction and commitment of other people's money ever goes on the timetable you plan it," Heldman said.

"We probably ought to stop ever saying when we expect anything to happen, especially things that are essentially beyond our control."

The fact that WSU's hotel project isn't meeting its initial timelines doesn't mean it won't happen, Heldman said.

"It's a typical construction project, where investors want to be sure that they're getting the maximum value for their money and the people on this end of the transaction want to be sure that they're getting the best possible facility to serve visitors to campus and the neighborhood."